Where in the Atlantic Ocean can a traveller find one destination which meets the needs of a scuba diver, surfer, wind surfer, hiker and mountain biker, while offering sunny skies, a mild climate and annual rainfall of less than 11 inches?
Well, the rainfall part rules Cornwall out, so I’m left with Cape Verde – one of the most charming, diverse and undiscovered archipelagos of the western hemisphere.
Situated 570km off the coast of West Africa, the island nation of Cape Verde is a playground for the thrill-seeking traveller; whether you’re looking to take adventurous treks up active volcanoes, or ride the peeling waves of the choppy ocean waters in a thrilling Point Break re-enactment.
The horseshoe-shaped cluster of islands – Sal, São Vincente, São Nicolão, Boa Vista, Maio, Santiago, Fogo, Brava and the uninhabited Santa Luzia – offer ample opportunities to discover Mother Nature’s finest work, but my visit wouldn’t have been complete without trying some of the island’s most popular extreme activities.
I started my adventures with an activity which I believed would involve the least effort – snorkelling. This might be true for the snorkelling expert but as a novice it took a little more effort than previously thought. After a lot of mask-fogging, breath-holding, and over-enthusiastic splashing, I began to master the techniques which allowed me to explore the crystal clear waters of this underwater world.
The island of Sal offers breathtaking aquatic scenery comparable to the Caribbean Sea, with sparkling sapphire waters teeming with diverse marine species, from loggerhead turtles aimlessly drifting, to colourful triggerfish darting in and out of the dark crevices of an underwater reef.
Sal is a scuba diver’s paradise with an abundance of diving sites including canyons, arches, lava rock ridges, caves, and volcanic boulders. Those keen to explore the island’s marine ecosystem won’t be disappointed as shoals of tropical fish splash colour through the crystal clear waters, and manta rays glide gracefully beneath the ocean’s surface.
Surfing conditions in Cape Verde are pumping and Ponta Preta on Sal Island offers one of the best breaks in the world. The pristine white sand beach is an added bonus and after checking out the size of the waves, I opted to stay on dry land, leaving the carving and shredding to the pros.
Santa Maria on the south of Sal Island has smaller beach breaks for less experienced surfers and Palmeria in the north-west of the island is a fantastic spot if you’re looking for beautiful uncrowded beaches. One way to preserve your energy while reaching the some of the best point breaks is to hire a jeep. The surf conditions of Cape Verde are particularly good in December and January, so much so, that former Hawaiian windsurfing champion, Josh Anglulo has moved to Sal permanently.
Avid windsurfers or kite surfers will find excellent conditions on the island of Boa Vista with consistent north-easterly winds blowing between October and June. Tortuga Beach is home to the Boa Vista Wind Club which is operated by former windsurfer, Francois Guy. The club is situated in a bay which offers ideal conditions including calm waters for beginners who are learning the sport (I was still making the most of the white sand beaches and the scorching sun).
Sal is also a popular area for windsurfing and kite surfing, with Ponta Preta and Santa Maria the main spots where talented athletes can be seen carving the powerful waves.
You might have noticed that I’m not a huge fan of water activities so the final two adventure sports are land-based – hiking and mountain biking.
The most populated island of Cape Verde’s collection is Santiago with its rugged mountainous terrain, dirt tracks, green valleys, barren plateaus, and array of routes, perfect for any level of riding.
While some might say walking isn’t much of an adventure sport, I’d say it is when you’re trekking up an active volcano!
Mount Fogo (on Fogo Island) is Cape Verde’s highest peak and last erupted in 1995.
Despite the fairly recent eruption, tour guides often make the ascent to the top of this cone-shaped volcano to show off the spectacular panoramic views from the top. And spectacular they certainly are. After a three-and-a half-hour climb up slippery terrain, I was able to see what all of the fuss was about. There I stood soaring above some of the most diverse landscapes I have ever seen: a blend of lush green vegetation and jade ocean waters to one side; and a palm tree-dotted, desert-like environment fringed with long white sand beaches and sparkling azure waters to the other.
The one thing I just could not get my head around was that this beautiful collection of tiny, but incredibly diverse, islands was located in our very own Atlantic Ocean.
Anna Ridley is a freelance travel writer who enjoys spending time at the beach. Her passions include listening and dancing to funky jazz and Spanish music, reading and travelling.